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Pittsburgh Council members launch website to promote land bank idea

| Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 11:30 p.m.

Two City Council members are making an online sales pitch to establish a Pittsburgh land bank in response to concerns that it wouldn't value community input and gives a nonelected board control of city property sales.

Those concerns have prompted a round of amendments to legislation that would establish the land bank.

Council members Deb Gross of Highland Park and Corey O'Connor of Squirrel Hill rolled out a website on Wednesday meant to educate people about the land bank, including a frequently asked questions section, a rundown of potential benefits and a summary of proposed amendments.

“We are making this more of a community-driven process,” said O'Connor, whose staff helped build the site.

Gross in January introduced a proposal to establish a land bank designed to reduce urban blight. It would have the authority to buy vacant or city-owned properties through an expedited title process and sell them to interested home buyers or developers.

Some council members, including Daniel Lavelle of the Hill District, are concerned that the land bank's operation would exclude residents from development discussions. He and Councilman Ricky Burgess of North Point Breeze proposed expanding the board from seven to 11 members, and requiring City Council to approve all sales, among other changes.

“By and large, what we're proposing is what the community came down and said they want,” Lavelle said. “For me, that should be the starting point for any discussion.”

O'Connor and Gross plan to introduce amendments that would increase the size of the board from seven to nine members, establish a public comment period for purchases and require City Council to approve board policies.

Burgess said he is still concerned about a lack of council oversight. He and Lavelle said they are encouraged O'Connor and Gross are emphasizing a more community-driven process.

“We have to make sure it's a tool to help the community,” Burgess said.

Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or mdaniels@tribweb.com.

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